A trip to Pushkar in Rajasthan, the holy abode of the creator of the universe, Lord Brahma, would pretty much encapsulate the entire 'Eat, Pray, Love' experience. And unlike Elizebath Gilbert, you won't need to travel three countries to experience indulgence with life and food, mysticism and uncanny coincidences and situations. Pushkar simply enthralls and entraps a casual tourist to an encore visitor.
About 134 km from Jaipur by road, when I began the journey for the annual Pushkar Fair, I took it as an ordinary assignment, a run of the mill event that has been happening every year, year after year.
I was absolutely stuck with ennui at the thought - till I was actually there. The innuendo that it was a trip to the cattle fair was an understatement when I actually visited the fair for the second consecutive time. The first visit stemming out of curiosity, there was little that I could absorb beyond the camels, horses, cattle, a quintessential rustic fair and the dust of emanating of the dunes that stretched limitless up to the horizon.
But once there, the vivacious spirit of the fair simply took me took me unawares, deep into fascination of how unfathomable the spirit of the rural ethos is, that comprises about 70 per cent of India's population.
The re-visit was revealing that instantly transported a city bred soul to lose its identity to watch with awe and soak into the spirit of the pure, untouched by consumerism, true Indian ethos. Set in the Aravalis, Pushkar is a rare combination of the dunes, lakes, hills and the forest.
And even while it is a round the year destination, particularly on Kartik Poornima (the full moon night) the small town of Pushkar transforms into a cultural phenomenon when villagers dressed in vibrant colours, devotees, musicians, acrobats, folk dancers, traders, comedians, sadhus and tourists all throng the holy town for the Pushkar fair. Then the cattle fair is just incidental with so much more happening simultaneously.
In a destination where East meets West Indian as well as foreign tourists participate with equal verve in camel races and trading, folk performances, body tattooing, ethnic shopping, puppet shows, acrobatics, best breed contest as well as hot air ballooning and the quintessential village giant wheel, all an integral part of the fair. Add to that now, with good rains, after almost two years - there finally was water in the lake - for a holy dip. Besides, after a good harvest, it seemed were the least that the villagers could splurge on.
The destination is an apt soubriquet of composite culture, were irrespective of it being the only place to claim a temple dedicated to Lord Brahma, people of all faith and belief flock, from Muslims to Pundits, Naga babas' to 'bagwa'or the 'jatau' sages and common people.
As we drove into Pushkar making way through the crowds, the road was braced with small vendors selling just about everything from a sickle and tongs, saddles, ropes, and assorted household items, inflated cartoon characters that the villagers could be seen carrying back home for the kids from the fair, glass bangles et al.
Small handicraft items are the best bargain for buying souvenir. "The traders sell a lot of
products like woollen blankets of Merta, bead necklaces of Nagaur of Rajasthan, textiles printed in Ajmer of Rajasthan and Jodhpur of Rajasthan, brassware of Jodhpur of Rajasthan and Jaipur of Rajasthan etc," said a shopkeeper.
Cultural shows and exhibitions are also organized in this fair to enliven the event. Movies are shown, competitions are arranged, bards and poets recite and sing tales of valour and heroism of bygone days. Animal races and other competitions also add the attraction. The Camel and Horse races have crowds to cheer. Camel judging competitions are quite popular with animal lovers. Each evening brings different folk dances and music of Rajasthan, performers delivering live shows to the roaring and applauding crowds.
All along women in vibrant, colourful attire could be seen balancing stalks of sugarcane loaded on their heads with bagfuls of wares. At other end camels, cows and horses could be seen settled on the dunes, nibbling at the hay. And just close to them at dusk, if men folk sat smoking their hookahs', women could be seen chopping vegetables and lighting the 'chulah' for the meal at night.
In the background, children thronged the site for a peek into, the indulgence of the rich as in quick succession hot air balloons' gradually soared high in the sky. Lo and behold, Pushkar was a spectacle, as we got a bird's eye view of the riot of activities, in the tiny village.
If at one end, sadhus' could be seen performing puja, people for a pilgrimage, men, women and children could be seen taking a holy dip in the lake for salvation. The 52 ghats, in all that were packed with humongous crowds, waiting their turn to take a dip in the holy 'sarovar' or lake.
A little away, after the day-long trading and the shopping frenzy the crowd had started gathering at the fair ground where Bollywood and folk fusion music blared and children could be seen engaged in different games and races. A reminder of the bygone times, loudspeakers could be constantly heard announcing names of people separated from their families, asking them to come and claim their loved ones.
Foreign tourists traversing on a bullock cart participated with equal enthusiasm with the villagers in different competitions like the "matka phod", tug of war, moustache, bridal competitions and puppet shows. But the biggest attraction was the be-decked camel race that during five day fair is the most exciting camel event of the fair - the 'laadoo oonth'.
For a shopaholic too, the fair is a treat. While the men are busy trading animals at the fair ground, the female folk, dressed in colourful bright dresses gather at the shops. Countless shops set up at the fair ground with all sorts of products including Rajasthani jewelleries and clothes, were a big draw with the crowds. And traditional Rajasthani silver jewellery sold at the fair - a huge draw with the foreign tourists. Local men and women could be seen at the tattoo stalls, etching names of their loved ones on their arms and foreign tourists made the most of tattoes' in Pushkar for ones in Bangkok at dirt cheap cost.
True to the spirit, Pushkar largely is a livestock fair and one of the largest animal fairs in the country. More than 200,000 dealers and traders fill the dunes to the west of the lake from Punjab, Haryana and Uttar Pradesh with bids as high as 50 lakhs for a horse. But camels are the main draw of the fair and large numbers of them are sold and purchased. Some of the traders strike quick deals and some animals are sold over a lengthy bargain. Most of the local men who attend the fair, keep themselves busy with the animal trading.
Talk of food, then the variety would amaze and bewilder. From lip- smacking 'maal-puas, kachories' Pushkar can offer the best Pizzas and Enchiladas, you can savour just every cuisine here. "We get a lot of foreign tourists who stay put in Pushkar for a long time. Over the years our staff has picked their culinary skills from the visiting tourists," said Babulal Dagdi owner of the Sun-Set Cafe, who switched over from farming to running a hotel and a cafe.
And not to forget 'Love', a lot of children in the surrounding villages, have one of their parent living in some part of the world. "All expenses for the children from education, to daily expenses are catered to, by the parent living overseas," said Raza a villager who trades in horses.
How to reach
Pushkar by Air